It must be the end of the world - The Clippers are in first place, UCLA beat USC in football and Kevin Figgers is writing a pro-Kobe Bryant piece? - As Peter Venkman once said: “Cats and Dogs living together....mass hysteria!”
But i’m just keeping it 100 - like I always have. Kobe Bryant is playing at an MVP-type of level for the purple and gold and is showing no signs of slowing down. Going into Tuesday night's game against Indiana, Bryant was shooting the best he ever has from the field (51%), the 3 point line (41%) and the free throw line (87%). I know its only 14 games into a
long season and i’m normally seen as a “Kobe-hater” (which i’m not), but credit should be given where its due, and Bryant deserves a lot of it.
The biggest change in Bryant’s game at this early part of the season has been his shot selection, which from day one has always been my biggest criticism. Kobe is no doubt one of the greatest players of all time and has always been compared to the man that most people feel is THE greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan. The biggest difference between Jordan and Kobe as far as im concerned (other than the fact that Kobe benefited from playing with Hall of Fame big men whenever he won championships), is the fact that Jordan attacked the rim relentlessly and rarely took questionable shots. Kobe, to this point of the season is playing as close to Jordan as he ever has.
So what can this sudden explosion of efficiency at age 34 be attributed to? Many point to the coaching change and believe that the wide open offense of Mike D’Antoni has Kobe playing more free and easy than he ever has. Those who disagree with that notion will argue that #1: Kobe was shooting lights out from the field even when the Lakers were in the
midst of their one and four start under Mike Brown and #2: when has Kobe ever NOT played free and easy and without a conscience? But supporters of this theory would say that Kobe is finally playing in an offense that encourages players to either shoot the ball or pass it immediately with very little one on one isolation plays and standing around, which Kobe has done most of his career. I tend to agree more with the latter. For the majority of his career, Kobe has played in the triangle offense, which while it does preach ball movement, it involves a lot of isolation plays from the high, low and mid-post. Now, in D’Antonio’s system, its more of a pure pick and roll offense that is predicated on constant ball movement and taking the first good look possible.
The question is, can Kobe continue his hot play for the entire season? History says no. When has any player in the twilight of their career actually played the best ball of their lives? - (Without steroids of course. Although, didn't Kobe fly to Germany for a blood spinning procedure that currently isn't being performed legally in the US?...Just saying). Kobe has gone on hot streaks in the past only to revert back to the ball-hogging, bad shot taking, chucker who will shoot you out of a game just as often (if not more often) than he’ll keep you in one. However, outside of the D’Antoni offense, there’s one major factor that separates this season from any other in Kobe’s career, and thats the Steve Nash factor. Since Nash has been out of the lineup, Bryant has been the primary ball-handler, scorer and playmaker for the Lakers. But all of that figures to change when Nash returns. Kobe has never played with a traditional point guard that could probe defenses and make plays for him (That Gary Payton year didnt count. Wanna know why? Go back and watch a few games from that season and you’ll have your answer). Combine Kobe’s natural talent, his already scorching hot start along with the quality looks he’ll get from Nash, and this could be the - dare I say - the best season of his career?
There is still plenty of season left to go and Kobe may very well end up with the same numbers he’s had for most of his career. But there’s no doubt that with his hot start combined with the implementation of Mike D’Antoni and his personal floor general, Steve Nash. Kobe’s numbers may actually warrant those comparisons to #23 for once.
And for your random video clip of the week we head down to the dirty south where the little brother of Hawks forward Al Horford took full advantage of a free candy giveaway, and then got a little...distracted: